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LGBTQ+ Forest Ranger Who Rescued Others Dies in Denali National Park

Robbi Mecus, a longtime climber and advocate for LGBTQ inclusion, died after a 1,000-foot fall in Denali National Park. Her partner sustained serious injuries.

robbi mecusPark Ranger Robbi Mecus died last week while climbing Alaska's Mount Johnson; (photos/Robbi Mecus, NPS)
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A 52-year-old climber and park ranger died in Denali National Park this weekend, federal officials said.

Robbi Mecus and her partner were climbing Mount Johnson on Thursday. Both climbers took a 1,000-foot fall, according to the National Park Service. Mecus died, and her partner sustained serious injuries.

The climbers were ascending a route on the 8,400-foot Mt. Johnson in Denali National Park known as The Escalator. With steep and technical alpine climbing on the peak’s southeast face, the 5,000-foot route requires navigating a mix of steep rock, ice, and snow.  

Another climbing party on the route witnessed the fall. They alerted Alaskan first responders at about 10:45 p.m. on Thursday. The onlookers descended on the accident victims and confirmed that one climber had died in the fall. They then dug a snow cave and cared for the surviving climber through the night.

Officials said the 30-year-old Californian was flown to an Anchorage hospital for treatment Friday morning. As for Mecus, it quickly became clear that this park ranger from New York State had made a big impact on her community.

Robbi Mecus: ‘Unparalleled Passion for Protecting the Environment’

Mecus had spent 25 years as a park ranger working for New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Just a few weeks ago, Mecus appeared in a New York Times story for rescuing a lost hiker in the Adirondacks.

A year earlier, she appeared in a DEC video explaining the difficult rescue of a 60-year-old Canadian woman with a leg injury.

“I call myself a rescue junkie,” Mecus said in the video. “I don’t wish harm on anybody, but there is a certain amount of pride we take in coming together as a team.”

On Monday, the DEC said that Mecus had shown an “unparalleled passion for protecting the environment and New Yorkers” during her long career.

“She exemplified the Forest Rangers’ high standard of professional excellence while successfully leading dangerous rescues and complex searches, educating the public about trail safety, deploying out of state for wildfire response missions, and advancing diversity, inclusion, and LGBTQ belonging throughout the agency,” the agency said in a statement.

An LBGTQ Advocate

Mecus was more than a committed ranger and rescuer, however. She was also a “tremendous leader for LGBTQIA+ rights,” former DEC commissioner Basil Seggos wrote on X.

She came out as transgender at the age of 44, she said in a 2019 interview with the New York City Trans Oral History Project. From then on, Mecus advocated for greater inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer climbers. She helped organize the first-ever Adirondack Queer Ice Fest to improve access to climbing among the LGBTQ community.

The idea was born out of getting an LGBTQ beginners clinic into an existing ice festival,” Mecus said in a 2022 interview with GoEast. “At one point, I said that I wished we could just do this ourselves, and somebody said, ‘Why can’t we?’ I woke up the next day and decided that was the way to do it.”

In the same interview, Mecus mentioned an upcoming climbing trip to Alaska and how it felt to go with another queer climber.

“I want people to see that trans people can do amazing things,” Mecus said. “I think it helps when young trans people see other trans people accomplishing things; I think it lets them know that their life doesn’t have to be full of negativity and it can actually be really rad.”

GoFundMe campaign to raise money for Mecus’ family — including her 11-year-old daughter — had received nearly $10,000 as of this writing. There is a separate GoFundMe page for Melissa Orzechowski, 30, Mecus’ climbing partner, who was seriously injured in the fall.

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